The nature of teams may be changing as more and more people work remotely, but the truth is businesses will always want people on their teams who can work well with others. This is why collaboration – the ability to work with others to make collective decisions and achieve common goals – is a perennially important skill for success. And yet you’ve no doubt encountered people who just don’t play well with others. It seems collaboration, while an obvious skill for success, isn’t necessarily an easy skill to master.
But what makes someone a good collaborator? In my experience, good collaborators are:
· Active listeners
· Generous with their time, knowledge, experience and encouragement
· Adaptable and flexible
· Excellent communicators
· Reliable and trustworthy (and trusting, for that matter)
· Positive and respectful
· Invested in achieving the common goal
· Open to feedback
So if you want to become a better collaborator, the above attributes are a good place to start. Here are ten simple ways to put these attributes into practice:
1. When others are talking, focus on what they’re saying rather than formulating your own response in your head. This way, you’ll be better able to understand their perspective, and they’ll feel heard. To really nail this, be sure to filter out distractions – by which I mostly mean don’t look at your phone while others are talking!
2. Volunteer your time and talent. If you aren’t presented with lots of opportunities to be collaborative, go looking for opportunities yourself. Offer to get involved in projects (big or small) at work. Sign up for committees inside your organization, as well as industry groups. Volunteer to be a mentor. Some of the best learning opportunities may come from things that are outside of your everyday responsibilities.
3. Find a mentor of your own. If you admire someone else’s collaboration skills, ask if they’d be willing to mentor you. This could be as informal as grabbing a coffee once a month.
4. Work on your adaptability. When you’re part of a team, you’re working alongside people with different personalities, approaches and experiences. Therefore, you can’t expect everyone to follow the exact same process and do things the same way (your way). So long as you’re all clear on the desired end result, let people accomplish tasks their way. You may even learn something and find better ways of doing things yourself.
5. Communicate openly and clearly. In particular, be open about what you need from others in order to collaborate well. In turn, ask what they need from you. Also, ask about people's communication preferences, and use the right channels for the right people. (This is especially important for remote teams.) Some people prefer email; others like to jump on a telephone or video call; some people respond well to instant messaging and emojis, while others are immediately turned off by a yellow smiley face!
6. Shoot the breeze. To build and maintain rapport, make time for more casual conversations. If you work remotely, why not ask your boss if your team could have an instant messaging or chat channel that’s purely used for informal chats?
7. Deliver what you promise, whether it's completing tasks by the required deadline or adapting to someone else's preferred mode of communication. (In other words, don't instant message someone just because it's easier for you when you know they'd appreciate a phone call.)
8. Stop complaining. Complaining pulls everyone down and distracts from the common objective, so resist the urge to complain. And don't get sucked into the spiral when others indulge in negativity (it's so tempting to join in with a good old-fashioned morning session). If something isn't going to plan, or you don't like how the company does something, address the problem head-on.
9. Leave your ego at the door. Good collaborators care more about the team achieving its common goal than being recognized for their individual roles in the achievement. Be honest with yourself, do you really put the team’s success above your individual recognition?
10. See feedback for what it is – an opportunity to learn – rather than something to get defensive about. Openly invite feedback (good and bad) from your teammates, listen actively to what they tell you, and consider how you could learn and do better next time. If you struggle to respond to negative feedback at the moment, you can simply acknowledge it and ask for time to digest it. ("I really appreciate that, thank you. You've given me a lot to think about.") Remember, it's not easy to give someone negative feedback, so do thank the person.